Anti-Remainer McCarthyism? Give me a break…

The elite-Remainer victim complex knows no bounds.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Free Speech

Tory whip and MP for Daventry Chris Heaton-Harris seems to have gone rogue and written to every vice-chancellor in the country asking what they’re teaching about Brexit. This act of both casual authoritarianism and profound dimwittery has sparked a firestorm from the overwhelmingly Remainer academic world.

In the letter, the Eurosceptic MP asked for names of academics teaching on European affairs and any course materials relating to Brexit. Vice-chancellors have rightly refused to oblige. And he’s been condemned by scores of politicians. Labour education spokesperson Angela Rayner called him a ‘poundshop McCarthy’. Andrea Leadsom was just about the only person to defend him, saying that at least he asked nicely.

Heaton-Harris’s actions were outrageous. It doesn’t matter if you use your Ps and Qs, if you’re an MP, let alone a government minister, it’s none of your business what a university is teaching and who they are hiring to teach it. Even if he was just a bit curious – back off. The state arbitrarily poking around in universities’ affairs can only have a chilling effect on free inquiry.

But the response from uni heads and MPs has been demented. David Green, VC of Worcester, labelled the letter ‘the first step to the thoughtpolice, the political censor and newspeak’, and Oxford chancellor and former Tory chairman Chris Patten called it ‘offensive and idiotic Leninism’. Green leader Caroline Lucas popped up to call it a ‘veiled threat’ on academia.

Yes, this letter was bad. But anti-Remainer McCarthyism? A Soviet purge? Give me a break. According to a UCU poll, 80 per cent of academics voted Remain. If you went on an anti-Remain witch-hunt the sector would collapse overnight. And though Heaton-Harris is right to be condemned, to suggest, as Green did, that we were on the road to showtrials is patently hysterical.

Then there’s the hypocrisy. The Prevent Strategy, which has led to the blacklisting of Islamists and the surveillance of students, has never once raised this kind of ire. All Labour says about it these days is that it needs to be used more against the far-right. And where were these VCs when Bath Spa rejected a psychotherapist’s research on transgenderism for fear it would cause offence?

Academic freedom and free speech on campus are being attacked on all sides – from government meddling to an internal culture that subtly silences uncomfortable research. Meanwhile, this paranoid Tory’s letter has done nothing other than earn its author a bollocking. And those shrieking ‘academic freedom’ today will be happily curbing it tomorrow.

Some Brexiteers can get a little obsessive over the anti-Brexit bias within academia or the BBC. But today has proved that that’s got nothing on the elite-Remainer victim complex. The claims that the ‘will of the people’ is a Stalinist threat; the talk of anti-Brexiteers being silenced, even though they haven’t shut up since 23 June – this is all the blather of well-off, influential sections of society slowly realising it isn’t only their views that matter.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Tom will be speaking at the session, Party politics: realignment or disintegration?, at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on Saturday 28 October. Get tickets here.

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Topics Free Speech


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